By Terry Rogers
Milford Rotary paid tribute to Gary Emory’s 37 years of service to the Milford Parks and Recreation Department on Saturday, January 31, at the Rookery North in Milford. More than 160 people were at the event to celebrate Mr. Emory’s contribution after his recent retirement.
Mr. Emory graduated from the University of Delaware with a Bachelor’s Degree in Parks and Recreation. A native of Milford, he began working with Milford Parks & Recreation under the direction of David Coil, the founder of the department in Milford, and in 1981, took over the directorship.
“When I came here after four years in the Air Force, it was apparent there was a vision on how to reclaim what had become a dilapidated downtown area,” Mr. Coil said. “Gary Emory executed a plan that was developed back in 1974 and, today, the downtown area, the Riverwalk and Goat Island are a tribute to Gary’s dedication, perseverance and determination.”
Councilman Skip Pikus who acted as Master of Ceremonies for the event, read a statement from Rob McKim of the Nature Conservancy of the Eastern Division for the United States that praised Mr. Emory for adding to the outdoor recreation that “makes Milford the great city that it is today.”
Among the many projects that Mr. Emory accomplished was completion of the Can-Do Playground, located on Airport Road behind the Greater Milford Boys & Girls Club. David Rutt, who was chairman of the playground committee for the Rotary, said that the playground would have been only a vision without Mr. Emory’s assistance.
Pictured left to right is Gary Emory, Milford Parks & Recreation Director Brad Dennehy and former Parks & Recreation Director Dave Coyle.
“Gary was instrumental in getting funding, conceptualizing the playground and getting it completed,” Mr. Rutt said. “In fact, there is a sign out there now naming the project as the District Rotary Project of the Year. “
Delaware State Representative Harvey Kenton said that he and Mr. Emory’s cousin, Pat Emory, who is a member of the Milford Board of Education, took a trip down the Mispillion River, enjoying the scenery along the banks. He said that Mr. Emory’s dedication would go a long way to creating an eco-tourism industry in Milford.
Over the last 30 years, Mr. Emory has worked diligently to complete the Mispillion Greenway Riverwalk which consisted of 23 phases. The Riverwalk begins at Maple Avenue and runs through downtown Milford, ending at Goat Island, providing bicycle and pedestrian paths in an effort to promote healthy lifestyle opportunities. Mr. Emory was instrumental in acquiring land for the project, as well as planning, developing and maintaining the area.
“It is impressive when you can go down a river anywhere and convince people to give you a part of your property to put in a public walkway,” said former City Manager, Richard Carmean. “But Gary Emory did just that. However, we always talk about his contribution to the Riverwalk, but we also must remember the 200 acres he maintains, the hundreds of children that he provided services for and the many events that Gary was an instrumental part of starting.”
Mr. Emory was also the cofounder of the Bud and Bug Festival in Milford, along with Milford resident, Dan Bond. Sara Kate Hammer, President of Downtown Milford Inc., pointed out that the festival was in its 12th year and that much of the success for all the downtown festivals was due to Mr. Emory’s dedication. Ruth Abbate, who served as the chairman for the annual Riverwalk Freedom Festival called Mr. Emory her “partner in crime” and thanked his wife, Cindy for sharing him with the many organizations that required his attention.
Mayor Bryan Shupe recalled meeting Mr. Emory for the first time when he was about four years old, as a child playing soccer through Parks & Recreation. He recalls that Mr. Emory used humor and worked to be sure that every child enjoyed their time on a team, whether they were the best player or not.
“What I did not know at the time was that he was instilling teamwork, sportsmanship and a sense of camaraderie in us,” Mayor Shupe said. “What is even more amazing was that he did this for thousands of children.”
In addition to the Bud and Bug Festival, Mr. Emory founded the Lil’ Bucs Invitational Wrestling Tournament and the Relay for Life event in Milford. In September, the nature preserve at Goat Island was named the Gary L. Emory Nature Trail at Goat Island. In addition, a little league field was renamed the Emory Little League Field in his honor. Mr. Emory has also received the most prestigious award offered by the Delaware Recreation and Parks Society, the George T. Sargisson Award.
“Service to the community is the best work in life and for 36 years I have tried to guide my department down that path,” Mr. Emory said. “Milford has been good to me. Dave gave me the opportunity to do what I loved and work in my chosen field. We were like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid when we started, doing anything we could to achieve our goals. Tonight has been a very humbling and rewarding experience.”